- Locate the passage
This passage begins with the last verse of Jonah 1 (2:1 in the Hebrew text) and includes all ten verses of Jonah 2. The passage begins with Jonah being swallowed by a God-appointed fish, proceeds with an account of the prayer of Jonah and concludes with Jonah being deposited on dry land.
Historical Narrative. This passage also contains elements of Hebrew poetry.
- Determine the structure of the passage
This passage is bracketed by emphases connected to the role of the great fish. That is, it begins (1:17) and concludes (2:10) with information related to the actions of a God-appointed fish. Between the brackets, the reader finds the prayer of Jonah from the belly of the fish. The first part of the prayer (verses 2-6a) contains Jonah’s remembrance of his experience in the sea prior to being swallowed by the great fish. The second part (verses 6b-9) moves from past to present and conveys Jonah’s reflection and resolve while still in the belly of the fish.
- Exegete the passage
After Jonah was hurled into the sea, verse 17 indicates that the LORD (Yahweh) had appointed or prepared (piel imperfect) a great fish (dag gadol) to swallow up or “gulp down” Jonah. In this way, the text stresses the arresting providence of God. Interestingly, the text proceeds to portray the sea as turbulent and chaotic in contrast to the role of the fish as the LORD’S vehicle for the deliverance of Jonah. The reference to “three days and three nights” is significant in light of the comparison Jesus makes in Matthew 12:40. It may be viewed as a sign of divine supremacy/sovereignty in that the place of death becomes the place of deliverance.
2:1 introduces the prayer of Jonah. He prays from the belly of the fish. Literally, he “caused himself to pray” (hithpael imperfect) to the LORD (Yahweh) his God (Elohim). In verses 2-6a, the heart of the prophet Jonah is revealed as he records his thoughts from a past-tense perspective. Verse 2 specifically addresses Jonah’s desperate cry of distress and the LORD’S response (answered, heard). The God from whose presence he had sought to flee was now his only hope for survival. Observe also in verse 2 the reference to Sheol which, in Hebrew understanding, was the abode or place of the dead.
In verse 3, Jonah acknowledges the role of God in his circumstances. The Lord “threw” him (hiphil imperfect) into the deep. Notice the progressive descent depicted in the text: from the surface of the sea (verse 3), to the midst of the sea (verse 4), to the bottom of the sea (verse 5), to a drowning-like experience in the sea (verse 6a). Additionally, the interpreter should heed the poetic implications of Jonah’s prayer in that it echoes a number of the Psalms (see Psalm 18:3, 6; 86:13, 88:6 and 120:1).
Verse 6b marks the second section of Jonah’s prayer. He sees himself as the recipient of God’s mercy. He stresses that the LORD “caused me to be brought up from the pit” (hiphil imperfect). Verse 7 includes a second reference to the “holy temple” which points to Jonah’s sense of estrangement from God (verse 4) and desire to return to Him (verse 7). In verses 8-9, Jonah makes a three-fold declaration. First, he asserts that those who worship empty idols forfeit the only source of hope available to them-the steadfast love (hesed) of the LORD. In verse 9, he declares his intent to give thanks, to sacrifice and to pay vows. Finally, Jonah utters the declaration that stands at the heart of this prophetic book: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” Interestingly, the Hebrew root for the word “salvation” is the same root for the name “Jesus.” Verse 10 completes the narrative section with a return to the actions of the appointed fish. The LORD “said the word” to the fish and it vomited Jonah out on the dry land.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon
The sermon should be presented inductively. The preacher may re-tell the story with the following structure:
- A God-appointed fish swallows Jonah. (1:17)
- Jonah prays from the belly of a fish. (2:1-9)
*distressing remembrance (2-6a)
*declaring resolve (7-9)
- A God-informed fish vomits Jonah out on dry land. (2:10)
After re-telling the story, the preacher may proceed to deliver the main idea/thesis. The LORD demonstrates mercy to his servants so that they might magnify it and extend it to others. Finally, utilize the element of end-loaded application to drive home the truth of the text. Application of this text would include emphases on God’s sovereignty in the superintendence of events and his rescuing mercy which has its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.